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  • Ann Hansen

What is Self-Directed Education?

And why is it important?

An important aspect of leading a fulfilled life is the capacity in which we understand ourselves. Meaningful experiences largely impact our sense of self and bring us joy. This gets overlooked when children are coerced into learning things that are not of value to them. They spend the most formative years of their life meeting someone else’s requirements and simultaneously disconnecting from who they are. This creates unnecessary stress and goes against how we were born to learn. When children are given the space to uncover paths that are meaningful to them, it facilitates deeper learning. This leads children to develop integrity and confidence in themselves. It is this integrity that helps children navigate a complex world. This type of authentic learning actually increases our creativity and ability for deeper, more critical thinking. As adults, we often need support shifting our perspective from what learning “should” look like to what “feels” right. Traditional education leads us to believe there is just one way to succeed in life. By shifting our focus and facilitating learning that is self-directed and reflective, we are supporting more conscious learning.

So what is self directed learning?

Self-Directed Education (SDE) is simply learning without coercion. The individual is empowered and has a say in what he/she is learning. We know that as humans we are learning all the time. Our deepest learning happens when we are connected to what we are doing. The idea behind SDE is that students have some connection to and interest in the material they are exploring. The practice of self-direction not only deepens learning but it also sends the message that being connected to what we are doing is important. By supporting self direction, we are supporting more conscious learning.

Four key elements to Self-Directed Learning:



It is important to trust ourselves, our children and our instincts. When we operate from a place of trust, it empowers both parent and child. With self-directed learning, children have ample opportunity and freedom to naturally learn as they stay connected to their innate desire to explore the world around them. They learn natural boundaries and consequences while sustaining curiosity. As we grow to trust our children’s instincts, we, in turn, begin to trust our own powerful parenting instincts. Learning is more expansive when we operate from a place of trust vs mistrust.


In SDE, a parent's biggest role is to get to know their children. Parents observe their children in order to notice what excites them and when they are most comfortable and creative. Parents watch their children’s body language, which is a big indicator of how engaged they are, and listen carefully to what they are saying. It's an intuitive practice. SDE is all about connecting to that inner guide, that intuitive way of experiencing the world. Therefore,“intuitive parenting” plays a large part in SDE. The idea is that this is a collaborative process and children are involved. The relationship is one of respect and collaboration. This process alone helps build integrity in young learners. They learn that they are respected and that their opinion matters. As we recognize the thoughts and opinions of our children, it often motivates them to think more deeply about their views.


There is truly an art to observing our children. It takes some soul searching and lots of self-awareness. It's important to keep an open mind. So often we bring our own experience and bias to a situation (which is part of being human). Simply notice if this might be happening. What is good for us might not necessarily be what our children need. Begin to view your child’s behavior as a means of communication. This is how we meet their needs. By creating environments and providing opportunities that match their learning style, we are investing in the relationship with our children and strengthening a connection that is built on trust and respect.


Getting to know who you are is key to leading a fulfilled life. It informs all of our actions and decisions. How connected we are to ourselves dictates how authentically we are connected to others. Part of SDE is getting in touch with that inner self. This happens not by just “doing” work but by understanding “why” we are doing the things we do. We all could benefit from ample time spent reflecting (not judging) on how we are spending our time and engaging with the world. It's this pause that can increase awareness of patterns that may or may not be working. When we allow children this time, it sets them up to make better life choices based on awareness rather than fear and expectation.

Let's get out of the way and trust our children. Let's support them as they connect to who they are and what they love without judgement and ranking.

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